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Wilderness Escape (again)

Small falls on ‘Cab Creek’ – After 3-4 hours of rain last night ‘Cab Creek’ was running well. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Recommendations for Getting Outside During Covid-19 – New poster at the trailhead sign-in point. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I work from home, so I really shouldn’t have any problem with the current shelter in place orders. Even so, the zeitgeist of the moment seems to have had some subtle psychological impact, and I’m finding it wearing. Regardless of shelter in place orders, I’d still be chomping at the bit to get out and spend some time in the wilderness. And so it was, and still is!

I wanted to get away for a couple of nights, but not travel too far. The choice was either another trip to Hercules Glades or go and visit Piney Creek. The trails at Piney Creek aren’t conducive to medium-length hikes. Piney Creek’s trails are either short or long. The idea of a couple of short hikes punctuated by a day spent doing nothing by the lake did appeal. In the end, I opted for a few more miles under my belt and another visit to Hercules Glades.

The forecast for Friday wasn’t brilliant. Rain between one and three, and then severe thunderstorms after seven. It would be warm with minimum daytime temperatures in the fifties. Saturday night would be slightly chilly, at 40°F (4.5°C), but both Saturday and Sunday would be bright and sunny during the day. If the forecast was correct, Sunday would be hot, up in the seventies.

As for hiking plans, I was going to be boring. After all the people I encountered on my last trip, I decided to try and keep away from the well-trafficked routes by going back to my campsite near the ‘Twin Falls.’ That campsite is just far enough from the trailhead to be within my hiking range for a late afternoon arrival at the parking lot. For my second night, I planned to retrace my route almost back to the trailhead, and then take the Pees Hollow Trail and spend the night near one of our favorite spots by ‘Cab Creek.’ Altogether it would add up to about twelve miles, and a couple of nights in my hammock. Not too shabby.

I had a couple of new pieces of gear to try out. One good thing about the country-wide shut down (for people like me with long wish lists) is that lots of manufacturers are offering significant discounts and free deliveries. Taking advantage of these, I have been able to get a new pair of huaraches, an ultralight folding stainless steel wood burner, and a Camp chair (really!). The huaraches are essentially the same as the last pair I bought, but with a much thicker sole. It was going to be interesting to see how they faired on what was going to be very wet trails. The wood burner is much smaller and packable than my home-made stove. The only downside is that it weighs three-to-four ounces more than my old stove. And finally, the chair is a luxury item that’s been on my list for ages. It is an ultralight camp chair — and, yes, it really is a ‘proper’ chair — it weighs under a pound. It will be an excellent contribution to my backpacking comfort. Unfortunately, ‘will be’ because it hadn’t arrived in time for this trip. Oh well, trying the chair out is another excuse to get out again in a week or so.

Back to my plans; by leaving later in the day, I hoped to avoid most of the afternoon’s rain, and still give myself enough time between downpours to set up camp and get dinner cooked. We have had a lot of rain recently, which decided me on taking my alcohol stove and plenty of fuel, too, as a backup, just in case I couldn’t find any dry wood. My new wood burner also acts as a stand for the alcohol stove, so I would be able to test that out too.

Unfortunately, I got careless getting ready for this trip. With Saturday night’s predicted temperature being 40°F, I didn’t leave any margin for error with my Summer quilts, which have a 40°F comfort rating. I should have planned for a 30°F night, but I was basking in the glory of finally transitioning to my summer kit, and taking extra covers didn’t factor in my thinking.

Plans complete, I packed Thursday night, all I had to do Friday was clear some work and get underway between one and two. I’d be on the trail around three.

Day One

Gary – Happy on the trail – Pilot trail that is. More new gear to try out. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I got away just after two, a little bit later than planned, but no real surprises there then. And no surprises in the fact that it was raining as I left Springfield either. I was ready for it to be raining on the trail too. But by the time I arrived at the trailhead, the sun was shining.

The trail was a lot drier than I was expecting, I stopped briefly at the Pole (Pete) Hollow cairn to see if the rocks I left on my last visit were still in place (They were). My new huaraches were proving to be even better than I’d expected, which was excellent news. Two hours later, I was ready to leave the trail and start bushwhacking north to my campsite. I’d decided not to be quite so boring, and instead of using the same campsite, I’d scout around further down the creek for somewhere else to camp. I gave myself half an hour to find somewhere suitable as I wanted to get set up before it got dark (sunset was at eight.) or rained. When I had last checked, the storm was still due to arrive before sunset.

in the middle of a forest, what’s the chance that the trees I’ve picked will get struck by lightning?

It took a while to find somewhere to camp (it always does). Still, eventually, I found somewhere with two big enough trees, far enough apart, with no brush between them, and no nearby widow-makers. Again I got careless (and this time lucky), I’d not checked what direction the storm was approaching from, so I had to take a guess. Fortunately, I got it right. Though for some reason best known to me — and I still don’t know — I decided to set the tarp high, I also set it in ‘porch mode’ with my hiking pole holding the tarp higher in the middle. With a severe thunderstorm heading my way, that wasn’t the cleverest of ideas. I should have set the tarp as low to the ground as possible so that I could hunker down from the straight-line winds, and it would keep the rain from getting to my hammock.

Hammock up, I collected wood for cooking dinner and breakfast. I stored it under my tarp in the lee of the hammock, where I hoped it would stay dry (it did). I collected some water from a nearby feeder creek, and then cooked my first meal on the new woodstove. It was surprisingly successful. Within five minutes of lighting the fire, my pot was boiling ready for a hot drink. Not long after, I had boiling water for my meal, and I kept the fire going for while just for the fun of it.

All in all, it was a great success. I should add that I had given the stove a test run in the backyard a few days ago, so this wasn’t my first go with it. The storm still hadn’t arrived when I retreated to the hammock to read for a while after sunset. Before long, thunder and constant lightning could be seen and heard approaching. As the storm came nearer, the increasing wind, bright flashes, and associated cacophony of noise distracted me from my book.

having a metal hiking pole sticking pointy end up at the sky in a thunderstorm wasn’t the cleverest of my ideas

Fortunately, the surrounding trees cut the wind down significantly, and in the middle of a forest, what’s the chance that the trees I’ve picked will get struck by lightning? It’s not worth worrying about. But it did occur to me that having a metal hiking pole sticking pointy end up at the sky in a thunderstorm wasn’t the cleverest of my ideas. I took it down and went back to my book. Shortly after the rain came, and it was heavy. The wind was strong enough to push the tarp into the hammock and set it rocking. The flashes and noise forced me to give up trying to read. Peering out, I got a face full of rain. That wasn’t good. My underquilt is down, and getting it wet wasn’t going to be a good idea. The wind had backed slightly, driving the rain under the tarp and into the hammock. I had a plan for this, I draped my rain poncho over the head end of the hammock. That fixed the problem, and the hammock, underquilt, and I stayed dry for the night.

Back in the hammock, I decided not to carry on reading, but laid back and enjoyed the show. I was soon asleep despite all the wind, thunder, and lightning (hammocks will do that to you!). The rain didn’t stop though. It was still going when I awoke at 1:00 a.m. And again at 3:00 a.m.

Aside. When I switched to fulltime working, I changed my health insurance. I can now only get my 90-day, regular pill supplies by mailorder. Despite my Dr. sending in a new prescription in plenty of time, there had been a problem. The result was, I had run out of my ‘pee’ pills a couple of days earlier (or should that be ‘anti-pee’ pills?). Without the pills I needed to get up every couple of hours to take a leak. The pills, of course, arrived while I was away. Good times.

Day One Stats

Day Two

Preparing Breakfast – Boiling up water on my woodstove ready for coffee and oats. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I woke up to sunshine, a sodden forest, and a background roar coming from the two creeks I’d camped near. The loudest was ‘Twin Falls’ creek about 200 yards east at the bottom of the hill I had camped about a quarter of the way up. The quieter one was the feeder creek I’d got my water from the previous evening.

Camped near ‘Twin Falls’ – Note my rain poncho draped over the end of my hammock. Last night’s severe thunderstorm was blowing rain around the end of my tarp. The poncho kept me and the hammock dry. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I collected my soaking wet food and trash bags from the tree they had been hanging from overnight. Bags in hand, I ventured down the hill to see what all the noise was about. I was expecting to see a seething brown, frothy, mass of water. The reality was much more mundane. The creek was clear and just running a bit more vigorously than the day before.

Back at camp, I took some dry wood from under my tarp and lit a fire in my stove. It took me a little longer to get my water to boil, but not a lot. Soon I had a cup of hot chocolate, and my rolled oats were soaking in boiling water. There was no rush. I didn’t plan on getting on the trail until gone midday, so I enjoyed the sunshine, leaving things to air out a bit, and I read for a while.

Pretty close to plan, I was ready to be on my way around noon. I stopped to take some pictures and video of the Twin Falls, which were running, but were no more impressive than when I had first encountered them in March last year.

Breakfast – Hot oats and coffee. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

I heard loud voices behind me. I had two choices; lurk until the hikers had gone past or set off down the trail and try and stay ahead of them.

I had just started heading east on the trail when I heard loud voices behind me. I had two choices; lurk until the hikers had gone past or set off down the trail and try and stay ahead of them. My experience is that most hikers move a bit more quickly than me, so I left the trail and went to explore the woods to the south for a few minutes. It was a mistake. When the hikers finally came into view, they were a couple of old guys moving at around half a mile and hour. It was too late. I couldn’t shoot out in front of them, I was committed to hiding in the woods. They appeared to be oblivious of their surroundings as they crossed ‘Twin Falls’ Creek and the glade the trail passes through here. I didn’t particularly want to overtake them on the trail, so I decided to give them a ten-minute start, knowing I’d still catch up with them. I decided when I did, maybe I would stop for lunch.

Now you know why I hate meeting people on the trail. I don’t ‘do’ casual chit-chat.

It was about three-quarters of an hour after I set out that I got going again. And the trail was excessively wet and muddy. And it remained so, almost All. The. Way. It wasn’t long before I met a group of three backpackers with two big dogs — complete with their own packs — heading west. I made room for them by stepping off the trail a couple of yards and waited for them to pass. One of the party said hello, and asked me what I was shooting. Not having the nimblest of minds when it comes to trail-side banter, I replied, “Beretta.” I received a puzzled, “Nice.” in return, and they went on their way. A hundred yards further down the trail, I realized my mistake. D’huh. He was referring to my camera, of course, and not my handgun, which he wouldn’t even have seen. Now you know why I hate meeting people on the trail. I don’t ‘do’ casual chit-chat.

Pilot (Tower) Trail. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Lunch on the trail – The cotton bag holds my latest wood burning stove, which I used in its alcohol stove configuration to heat water for lunch. The noodles were very good. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

In less than half an hour I’d caught up with the two old geezers hikers again. They were still moving slowly along, talking loudly. I gave up and decided I’d take an early lunch. All the deadfall wood was wet, so I got out the Trangia and had my first attempt at using it in my new stove. It worked fine. The noodles were delicious, and I had a cup of hot chocolate too.

While I sat cooking and eating my lunch, three young lads went by heading west. I was only about 20 feet from the trail and in full view, but none of them saw me.

I was soon back on the trail, and an hour later I met a backpacking dad and his young daughter, complete with her own mini backpack. That was good to see. I did a double-take when I first saw them, as the dad uncannily resembled someone I knew in the UK, right down to the beard, hat, and scruffy clothes. I’d last seen Phil in 2011, shortly before he prematurely died, leaving a wife and young daughter. Of course, it wasn’t Phil, but the confusion of partial recognition was unsettling.

Indian paintbrush – Castilleja, commonly known as Indian paintbrush or prairie-fire. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Glade – I stopped here for lunch a few trips ago. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Heading east on the Pilot Trail at Hercules Glades Wilderness – In modern parlance that would be the Tower Trail. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Shortly after three I was back near the trailhead, at the start of the clock-wise route around the Pees Hollow Trail, and ready for the last section of my hike down to ‘Cab Creek.’ I set off down the ridge and I stopped to re-fill my water bottle from a creek the trail crosses near the bottom of the ridge. The end of my day’s hike was less than a mile away.

Late afternoon found me at my destination, ‘Cab Creek’ where I stopped and took pictures of the falls. I decided to wander around and explore for a while before finally setting up camp near to where I’d first camped when I found this nice corner of the glades a couple of years ago. The ground was sopping wet, so I didn’t bother looking for wood for the stove and cooked my dinner on the alcohol stove.

Small falls on ‘Cab Creek’ – After 3-4 hours of rain last night ‘Cab Creek’ was running well. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Small falls on ‘Cab Creek’ – After 3-4 hours of rain last night ‘Cab Creek’ was running well. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Day Two Stats

Day Three

Camped near ‘Cab Creek’ off the Pees Hollow Trail – I got caught out by a 36F night with my 40F insulation and no extra clothes or wrappings. Chilly but not health threatening. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Overnight, two mistakes caught up with me. The temperature dropped to 36°F — below the comfort rating of my quilts, and when I set up my hammock, I didn’t check if I’d set it up properly. I checked the ridgeline tension, but I didn’t make sure that the head end was lower than the foot end. Now that’s an issue because if the foot end isn’t higher, you tend to slide down towards that end. Not disastrous, except that end of the under quilt is thinner. In short, due to my mistakes, I spent a chilly, uncomfortable night in my normally warm and cozy hammock. I slept fitfully and was glad when the sun finally made it into the hollow, and I could bask in its warmth. I was in no rush, so I enjoyed laying out in the hammock in the sunshine for the greater part of the morning.

I have a problem with repetitive tasks like hiking and swimming. I am unable to think while I’m doing them. So having some downtime in the hammock without my book made a welcome change and a chance to do some thinking.

I packed up camp and was back on the trail just after one. I reckoned that with a stop for lunch, I’d be finishing the four-mile up-hill hike and be back at the parking lot around five and home by six-thirty.

Again the trail was very wet and muddy. A lot of it was ankle-deep mud. When I arrived at the Brushy Creek crossing, the creek was running well, and a welcome relief. I walked down the creek to take a look at the stepped falls where Brushy Creek meets ‘Cab Creek,’ cleaning my feet off in the process. I took a few photos and decided it was too early to stop and cook lunch. I filled my water bottle and packed some more water so I could cook lunch later.

Stepped falls on ‘Cab Creek’ – At the confluence of Brushy Creek and ‘Cab Creek’. You won’t find ‘Cab Creek’ on the maps. I made that up. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Stepped falls on ‘Cab Creek’. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.
Small falls on Brushy Creek – The trail is just at the top of these falls. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Back where the trail crosses Brushy Creek I met a family of four out on a day hike. The young kid was carrying two six-foot fishing poles. I have no idea where he thought he was going to go fishing, or how he’d feel about bringing them along once he finished the six-mile hike. Fortunately, that wasn’t going to be my problem.

The hike out was wet and muddy, and the grit from the mud caused some rubbing on my ankle on my left foot. It’s the first time I’ve had that sort of problem while hiking. It would be easy to blame my new huaraches. With the trail conditions I encountered, I’d probably have had some issue whatever footwear I had.

Spring Ozarks – I know I keep taking pictures of this view, but it changes all the time. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

In the end, I decided not to stop and cook lunch. I finished the last part of the trail (all uphill) fairly swiftly, and I was back at the trailhead by 4:30 p.m. and back home at little over an hour later.

Hike over – Hat hair, two nights and a tad short of 13 miles. Now back to shelter in place. Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.

Day Three Stats

That brought my trip (and April) total to 13 miles, 1,400 ft. And two nights. A lot better than it could have been.

Final Thoughts

Well, my carelessness definitely set me up for some problems.

  • Not taking suitable clothes or quilts for the low predicted temperatures of Saturday night.
  • Not checking where the storm was coming from could have been disastrous if I hadn’t been lucky enough to guess correctly.
  • Setting the tarp high when I knew a severe thunderstorm was on its way (and we’ll best forget my setting it up in ‘porch mode’).
  • Stopping and waiting for the slow hikers to pass, wasn’t a big deal, but I probably wasted a lot of time doing so, just because I didn’t want them to overtake me on the trail. I should have just carried on. That would have been a much better option, and those particular hikers would never have caught up with me.
  • Not checking that I’d properly set the hammock on the second night was a stupid, rookie mistake.

The other problems I had were minor. I’m going to have to keep an eye on the rubbing problem with my new huaraches. I hope it’s a one-off, as I really prefer the thicker, less flexible soles on my new pair.

I think I’m going to try out not reading books on my trips. While they help pass the long winter nights, they also mean I don’t have time to just stop and think. This is especially true when the weather and conditions don’t allow me to sit and reflect on life while looking after a campfire. The colors and the lots of running water made this a very pretty trip. But I think I prefer the colder weather as it puts people off going out on the trails. I’m very antisocial! Not that they aren’t entitled to be there just as much as I am. I just don’t want to see or hear too many of them while I’m backpacking.

It was a good trip. I’ve been reminded of a few things, and hopefully, that’ll remove some of my complacency and carelessness. And now I have my camp chair to try out on the trail…

Copyright © 2020 Gary Allman, all rights reserved.